The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Why follow Jesus? Why do you follow Jesus? Why do you want others to follow Jesus? These questions probably seem ridiculous to a room full of Christians. “Duh…Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer. Jesus died and rose again for the complete forgiveness of all our sins. Jesus died and rose again so that we could have eternal life with Him in heaven. Why wouldn’t we follow Him? Why wouldn’t we want others to follow Him?” You’re absolutely right! When recognized through the eyes of saving faith, it really is a no-brainer.
However, can we sometimes get away from these foundational truths? Can we sometimes find ourselves headed away from the clear Light and joy that is Christ, instead heading into darkness; darkness that promises all kinds of things appealing to our worldly, Old Adam nature? I ask this because I know that there isn’t a single person here who doesn’t want to experience the joy of being a Christian TODAY. We all know that joy beyond all measure awaits us in heaven, but…we want to experience the joy of being a Christian today too. And yet…being a faithful Christian in this day and age, especially in our culture, can often be anything but joyous. In fact, there are times that it can feel downright depressing. Life gets tough and there are times that we think, “why bother? Is this [church] really worth all the trouble?”
And this especially becomes the case when we hear how “good” other people supposedly have it. We do get jealous of those who jump for joy and rave about their “awesome, moving worship experience.” We want to be moved too! We see throughout history how people sang hymns of joy as they were being put to death for their faith, and we wonder if there’s maybe something wrong with us or with the faith we’re practicing today. What are we missing? What have we got wrong? We hear in Scripture how people were utterly overjoyed in their faith, and we wish that we could have that same joy. Their faithful joy caused them to do crazy things. How many times was St. Paul beaten and imprisoned and shipwrecked in his missionary work? How many times did he come close to death? And yet, he was thrilled to continue on with his mission work. He was overjoyed to have the privilege of doing such mission work. Such obstacles and pains and thorns never swayed him or made him question whether it was all worth it. He considered it an honor to serve Christ in such a way.
We hear this and, if we’re honest, we admit that we do feel a bit of jealousy. We do covet these experiences and these joys. We want what these folks had! Who here wouldn’t want the crazy joy that St. Peter had when he heard John declare, “It is the Lord”? Peter was so elated to see this post-resurrection Jesus that he put on clothes so that he could jump in the water and swim the 100 yards to shore. He just couldn’t wait. He couldn’t wait for the miraculous catch of fish to get hauled in. He couldn’t wait for the boats to come to shore. He stands up, gets dressed (how crazy is that?), and then he jumps in, swimming to shore so that he could be in Christ’s presence. I wish I had even a fraction of that zeal and that faithful abandonment and craziness. “Who cares what the others think? This is Jesus!” I wish I had it…but I don’t. And this bothers me.
And here is where darkness of doubt and denial and depression starts to creep in. This is where blindness overtakes us. This is where the devil does some of his best work. We hear these things and we begin to reason, “Well, duh! Of course Peter behaved like this. Jesus was standing right there in the flesh. Of course John could so willingly take the torture and exile heaped upon him. Look at the awesome revelation he received! Of course Paul could be so bold. He encountered Jesus face-to-face on the road to Damascus. He was blinded by Jesus, and then he experienced the miracle of having his sight restored by a guy personally sent by Jesus. If I had that sort of personal experiential facetime with Jesus, I’d be happy and jumping for joy and jumping out of boats too!”
My dear brothers and sisters in the faith: What has Christ already done for you? What is Christ doing for you today, in your very presence? I would quote Jesus here and say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe,” but that misses the point of our specific context. Jesus spoke those words specifically to Thomas in chastisement for failing to believe the Word of the resurrection. That’s not our problem today, is it?
Now, is Jesus standing here in the flesh like He was with Thomas or Peter? No. Is Jesus shining forth like a brilliant blinding light, with His voice booming from the heavens, like He did with Paul? No. If He was, this place would be standing room only. Who wouldn’t want to be here? Who wouldn’t want to experience such miraculous, powerful, life-changing things? And yet…through the eyes of faith we do hear Him and recognize Him in His very real presence. “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We know that this isn’t just a sentimental statement, as if Jesus is with us in spirit only. NO! He is truly with us! His Word and Promise is true, more than we can imagine or comprehend in our fallen, human reason.
John himself said it best as he stood in the midst of that miracle at sea and recognized his Lord and Savior. “It is the Lord!” Such a Word; such a proclamation, as simple as it is, has the power to bring life to death, light to darkness, sight to blindness, and hearing to the deaf. It has the power to make people do the craziest things, like jump out of boats or stand before pagan kings and emperors and joyously stare death in the face, or rejoice in exile, in sickness, in death. It has the power to make people in our day and age do something as crazy as believing and standing firm in the faith in the midst of a world that hates Christ, hates the faith, and wants nothing more than for you to compromise and sell out for the sake of “peace.” Crazy indeed! It has such miraculous, crazy power because it is God’s holy and life-giving power! It is the Holy Spirit of God Himself, working in, with, and under these ordinary means. Folks: Here is the Lord! It’s that simple, and it’s that powerful.
May God, through the working of His Holy Spirit in this Word and His very tangible means of grace, knock the deadly, sinful scales of doubt and despair away from your heart, your mind, and your soul, and may He open the eyes of your faith so that you are able to look and behold Christ Jesus ever and always in our midst, nourishing us and ministering to us, bringing to us His free gifts of grace, mercy, and peace that surpasses all understanding. May such a recognition of Immanuel—God with us—bring you the same faithful reckless abandonment and joy and peace that it has given all those who’ve come and gone before you in the faith. It really is that simple. Here is the Lord! Here is Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer. Jesus died and rose again for the complete forgiveness of all our sins. Jesus died and rose again so that we could have eternal life with Him in heaven. Here He is! Praise Him, from whom all blessings flow.
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